Zoo Official Calls Animal Activists, Media ‘Vultures’


One day after animal advocates revealed that the San Diego Zoological Society has sold animals to a Texas hunting ranch, the zoo’s chief spokesman lambasted animal rights groups, which he said resembled “carrion-seeking, flesh-eating vultures” who descend on tragedies “before the body is cold” in hopes of personal gain.

In a speech delivered Wednesday at the annual American Assn. of Zoological Parks and Aquariums conference in San Diego, spokesman Jeff Jouett also bitterly attacked the news media for their coverage of allegations made by the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States and other groups. Those groups, he said, have used lies to bolster their criticism of the San Diego Zoo.

“There are low-class, no-class slime balls out there who will tap dance on the graves of your friends if it suits them, and if anyone will watch,” Jouett said as a slide projector displayed portraits of vultures on a huge screen behind him. “Truth be damned. Fairness forsaken. The milk of human kindness spilled. These are people who abuse . . . the truth. These are people who not only don’t have the facts, they don’t have a clue.”

Jouett did not mention animal advocates’ most recent allegations, which led embarrassed San Diego Zoo officials to admit this week that they had unwittingly shipped some so-called “surplus” animals to a hunting ranch and to a game farm that has sold animals to hunting ranches to be killed as trophies. When presented with documentation Tuesday, Jouett said he was “glad” that the zoo’s ties to hunting ranches had been revealed and announced that those ties would immediately be severed.


Jouett focused instead on two other incidents within the last year--the deaths of an Asian elephant and of a young elephant keeper--that he said illustrated the way “self-anointed animal avengers” use deceptive tactics. What was more, he said, the news media have been irresponsible in their treatment of zoo stories--particularly The Times, which he called “the ones proven most likely to be baited and to take the bait.”

“The marrow of emotions draws the drooling carrion crows. For some so cold, the death of a loved one, human or animal, is a significant and reasonable media opportunity,” Jouett said, noting that, in his two chosen examples, he believes “reporters, observing the 13th canon of journalism, which is ‘never let the facts stand in the way of a good story,’ were much obliged to help.”

Jouett spoke at length about an error made by a Times reporter last December in a story that described the Humane Society of the United States’ criticism of one of the zoo’s elephant enclosures.

Meanwhile, outside the convention hotel, Sally Mackler, a leader of San Diego Animal Advocates, wore a “Circling Vulture” ID button on her lapel.


“There wouldn’t be vultures circling if there weren’t a dead carcass,” Mackler said as she led about 20 picketers with signs that read “Zoo Today, Game Ranch Tomorrow” and “Beat ‘Em. Breed ‘Em. Blast ‘Em. Bury ‘Em.”

Mackler said she finds interesting the cases Jouett selected to discuss in his speech.

“He didn’t use the word ‘Dunda,’ ” she said, referring to an elephant at the San Diego Wild Animal Park that was beaten by elephant keepers as a disciplinary measure in 1988. “He did not use the words ‘surplus animals.’ We didn’t hear the word ‘game ranch.’ There is a problem here that needs to be dealt with.”

Jouett wasn’t the only zoological parks and aquariums association member who exhibited disdain for the media Wednesday. At a morning symposium on public relations and marketing, Karen Asis, the association’s public relations officer, derided reporters for stooping to “pack” journalism “as in pack of dogs” after a television news report on “60 Minutes” last year.


The report suggested that some animals from the San Diego Zoo had ended up on private hunting ranches because the zoo employed what the report called disreputable animal transporters to move their animals around the country. The zoo denied the charges, but did end its business relationship with one of the transporters mentioned in the broadcast.

Asis also urged her colleagues to be wary of the media’s ties to the animal rights community. Some animal rights advocates pose as reporters to get information, Asis said. Others “hold legitimate jobs in the media and use them to further personal goals.”

But one AAZPA member in the audience said she was disappointed at Asis’ negative tone.

“It was extremely paranoid,” said Sue Pressman, the Washington representative of the Performing Animal Welfare Society and the former director of captive wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States. “I did not think that engendered what we are spending our money to be here for--to work together on problems.”